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Pushing the Edge.

Pushing the Edge.

This section reviews one of the two the scenarios. The previous section reviews the other: Renewed Foundations. The grounds from this these scenarios emerge is reviewed in the first section in this chapter. The consequences of these scenarios is examined in Chapter 3.

Figure 1: the movement of the three major blocks.

The discussion around the other scenario, Renewed Foundations, progressed through a discontinuity in the 2010 period. It may well be that Pushing the Edge, which we discuss here, is heading for just such a break in 2020. However, it grows from the present in a continuous, linear fashion. As a result, we discuss these developments with no section breaks.

In summary, the economic imperatives are such that nothing can stand in the way of commercial competition. Economic structures change very considerably, and individual national controls over what is being done become increasingly circumscribed. Indeed, nations and - in particular - sub-national regions actively solicit the attentions of mobile assets by adapting themselves and specialising. Political structures are increasingly ineffectual in the face of this an of the wave of age-focused claimancy that dominates debate in many of the industrial powers. Traditional modes of political representation struggle on, despite individual examples where these limits are transcended.

There is, however, a major 'stylistic' division within the industrial nations, based chiefly on their civic traditions and demographic structure, and revolving around attitudes to change. We have explored this in much more detail in Chapter One. These divisions are most sharply seen in the relationships between 'world cities' and their hinterlands, something also explored in that section. However, one of these groups is characterised by attempts to resist or modulate the remorseless flood of commercial restructuring and adventurism. The others seek to embrace it. There is some friction as a result of this, and the camps tie themselves into multilateral frameworks from which they exclude the other group or groups. This friction is replicated within nations, and traditional political parties find this a recipe for their revival. The urban-rural, young-old, capable-excluded split is, however, quite different from the traditional left-right patterns of the C20th.

In national terms, three major blocks emerge. An Atlantic consensus tends to go with the prevailing flow. It has associates in Latin America, Asia and the Pacific. An important but numerically small Atlantic fringe, much discussed in the other scenario, tend to be torn between the pragmatic model and the alternatives, whilst feeling neither of these quite meet the bill. Much of continental Europe, the Mediterranean and middle East, Japan and the emerging nations with elderly populations tend to try, however, to resist in varying ways the forces of change. As a third groups, most of the world's billions fall into neither of these camps and, whilst some do well, most do not.

International institutions do not develop well in such an environment. Environmental issues and world security are of concern - particularly with the extraordinary technological change which this scenario envisages - but the measures to manage its use are weak and bilateral. The Atlantic consensus tends to act directly upon the sources of the most outstanding problems, whilst the elderly block work to wall off the impact. Only in topics such as greenhouse gas emissions, public health and the unconstrained use of biotechnologies does a consensus movement emerge, but the measures proposed are themselves contentious.

World rates of economic growth is faster than history in this scenario, although rates fall towards 2020. The growth is unevenly distributed, however, and the groups which resist change grow more slowly than was the case in the past. The ranking of national economies has changed considerably by 2020 from its current value.

Paths to 2020.

A glance at Figure 1 shows two forces at work. Society is becoming more plural, consumerist and more inclined to exercises its liberties. This movement is not, however, matched by a concomitant movement in the means by which public choice is exercised. The mechanisms of this remain largely traditional, although much more complex in their details. As already discussed, however, the underlying political polarities are quite new. In essence, however, the majority of most societies want government to 'get on with it' and all them, as sophisticated 'economic rationalist' consumers, to live their complex busy lives as they see fit.

The second and dominant force is that of commercial expansion into areas of renewal and innovation of breathtaking scope and scale. The intricacies of this will be explored in a moment. The consequence is, however, that economic growth is historically rapid, at least to 2010 and where unfunded age is not an insuperable problem. Stock markets find that their anticipatory boom of the late C20th were well founded, and savers find that they are agreeably well provided-for in old age. Trade between the rich world and the industrialising world grows very fast, as commoditised and specified-outsourced goods are delegated to the low wage, efficient economies.

The new things that are being made are extraordinary. We have explored some of the possibilities of science and technology in Chapter One.

Insight into the natural world revolutionises our view of how the universe works, how humans function, how complex structures arise and operate. New energy sources are promised. (Not, of course, for the first time, but with the experience of much hindsight.) These concepts find resonance in issues such as the stability of financial markets, the workings of cities, the mechanisms of competition and the evolution of societies. Many issues which the late C20th regarded as 'debatable' or political are known as facts. Economics is quantitative and predictive, social science, if not political science, can aspire to fulfil the promise inherent in the title.

Several billion capable people know about and interface with these possibilities every day. They look at the tissue of competition and demand and spot weaknesses, opportunities, potential. All of the major tools of knowledge management are brought to bear on the least item. Nothing remains untried for long, and no stone is left unturned for long enough for the shaded side to cool. In this ceaseless churning, no firm or set of scrutinizers of firms can stay quiescent. Figure 1 shows that commerce reaches up the diagram from its end-Century position to focus on the flow of new potential.

The structure of commerce changes, focusing in two ways. First, it focuses on the stage of development of the project. Second, it focuses on the knowledge that it needs to access or the stakeholders that it needs to please, not on traditional industry categories. Firms operate within value chains which are usually at least partly transnational. Many proprietary value chains will sprawl across political frontiers, making the firm 'multinational'. It will, however, less see itself as a foreigner as the conduit of a semi-native stream of activity. Some firms have explicit transnational links, where they replicate all that they do in a foreign country. They do this less for market or resource access, as was once the case, than for access to knowledge pools, to satisfy regulatory demands or for brand continuity. Exceptions to this rule abound in relation to the poor or poorly organised nations, where managerial issues remain acutely weak and where inward investment is always needed. Other regions where these parameters are met will also play host to traditional multinationals, but elsewhere the breed is extinct.

Figure 2: Commercial entities inhabiting the economy of 2020.

The categories of firm shown on Figure 2 have completely different imperative, values, criteria and time-scales. The most arcane lie on the upper right, where virtual organisations, all manner of start up and experiment try to make a set of ideas into a business model. Some of these re-invent conventional organisations, others spin out of universities, government, knowledge milieux or international entrepreneurialism. Young people may create music together but never meet, software may be written across the network and set up for commercialisation. A myriad of successful and not-so-successful experiments will have one thing in common: what the seek is to prove an idea, and then pass it on for exploitation by others more suited to this task. They themselves will return renewed and re-funded to creative enterprises.

Focused incubators pick the best of these ideas and, perhaps with some of the initiators, create a working business structure from the business idea. These, in turn, pass the baton to firms which make a living from fishing in the river of potential for brand- and customer-appropriate possibilities, and developing these to maturity. Finally in the life cycle, organisations specialise in the end game, in consolidation, cost management, quality control and the pressure for productivity. Either of these stages may spawn new ideas, renewal, better ways of performing established tasks. Such are often spun off, so as not to compromise the cultural homogeneity and focus of what they do.

This scheme is never as simple or as linear as has been painted. However, the successful firm of 2020 knows its business idea and its life cycle positioning exactly, and all of its staff know what works for them and what does not. It is agile in response to change because it understands itself and its terrain. It can explain itself to its stakeholders, and works closely with them to align itself to their needs.

Society sees a fast-moving complex world within which some simple rules are all too evident. How to succeed is well-described, as is the path to failure. There are no obvious alternatives but to swim up stream. There is dissent and stress. Nations with elderly populations are in particular danger of losing their way, in part because they lack the skilled young population, in part because the prevalent culture is repulsed by the technological extremes (and harsh management behaviour) practiced by cutting edge firms. Nations which ban a particular technologies en bloc are, however, in desperate danger of being bypassed on whole industry sectors. It is hard to catch up once the infrastructure of skills, trainers and companies, informed regulators and focused supply chains have been lost. Nations which adopt economic practices - such as trade limitations or potentially inflationary economic steps - will find themselves deserted by the light, innovating knowledge base and with it, the milieux from which tomorrow's major organisations will feed.

This said, some nations - those with demographic burdens, and a residual desire for national identity - will see the leading edge nations as the source of their difficulties. Many in the rural hinterland will see the major cities in a similar light. There is, therefore, a decreasing sense of a collective interest between and within the industrial nations as the period progresses. Intense competition, and the need to maintain continual vigilance against many different forms of erosion, imply that collaboration is anyway limited to situations where al of the parties see immediate advantage. International relations are firmly of this nature: they are pragmatic, bilateral or of a limited multi-lateral scope. There is limited commonality of direction amongst the industrial nations, and relations between the leading edge and other powers is increasingly brittle. No standard policy emerges towards the issues of development, security and stability. The implications of this are explored below.

Society broadly enjoys the growth, full employment, excitement and options which the fast-moving economy provides. There is an efflorescence of experiment, rather as in the boom years of the 1920s the 1960s and the 1980s. Social fragmentation goes much faster than in earlier periods, partly because there are fewer inhibitions, partly because the options are so much richer. Cosmetic biotechnology is widely used for body sculpture. Groupware systems intended for project management are used to govern social behaviour, of individuals and groups. Consumption is conspicuous, self-development extensive, affiliations fleeting and experiment widespread.

Behind all of this expansion, complexity is mounting. Institutions have not, however, moved forward and, as indicated in the introduction, the pace of change and style of operation has become markedly different between regions, and between major cities and their hinterland. This decoupling creates friction. Equally, there has been little capacity to integrate world affairs. International and institutions have made weak progress as compared to the development of the issues which they are intended to address.

Focused commerce and blurred social goals, coupled to weak institutions is not a recipe for progress. Many of the forces described in the scenario Renewed Foundations begin to express themselves, but from polar positions which it is hard to recover. Growth begins to slow after 2010, and markets falter as they realise that some of the headier options will not pass the test of social acceptability. The acute nature of the demographic crisis begins to bite in some nations during this period.

In addition, the absence of international structures expresses itself in three ways. Fast growth has causes environmental degradation to accelerate in many poor nations. Poor institutions have combined badly with access to international commercial machinery and the relationships struck between the middle income ad poor nations are exploitative, painful and the source of much discontent. Migration is out of control, and crime is widespread.

Three particular forms of crime strike into the industrial world. Intellectual property, laboriously created, is stolen. Activities which the industrial nations regulate for social reasons - such as managing the nature of your offspring, extreme cloning technologies and psychoactive chemicals and neural modifications - are available to visitors and by mail. The technologies are poorly controlled and there are escapes and accidents, particularly in agricultural biotechnology, where the interaction of this and lost biodiversity cerates great concern. Third, instability in the region has led to the use of potent new technologies as weapons, and extortion and other threats to the industrial nations have mounted. Remote crime - the sophisticated descendent of 'hacking' and the faxed confidence trick - has become a major issue for firms. Remote supply chains are compromised, brands are threatened, systems integrity is uncertain. If the financial district cannot trust its transactions, and if the city's traffic lights can be turned off from Africa, then something has to be done. The resulting armoring costs time, cash and talent.

The gradually slowing industrial world of 2020 has, therefore, a hugely mixed population of no defined affiliation. Its nations are divided internally and between each other. It is rich, and has an extraordinary technical capacity to act, but weak skills in deciding collectively how it want to act. All of the habits which it has learned predispose it to see the alternatives - Renewed Foundations, for example - as absurd complications, sophistry, an attempt to wrest power from duly elected hands. Which the complex, quiet world of Renewed Foundations look upward to new heights, Pushing the Edge is inclined to rest on its not-inconsiderable laurels and let the rest of the world find its own destiny.

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